Image: Atlantis
NASA file
The shuttle Atlantis is surrounded by work platforms in NASA's Orbiter Processing Facility, in a photo from September 2005. NASA says Atlantis will be the first of the three remaining shuttles to be retired.
updated 2/21/2006 3:40:12 PM ET 2006-02-21T20:40:12

Atlantis will be the first of NASA’s three space shuttles to be retired, most likely in 2008, as the shuttle program winds down in four years, a senior agency official says.

Atlantis’ parts will be used by the remaining shuttles, Discovery and Endeavour, until the aging spacecraft are mothballed in 2010, shuttle program manager Wayne Hale told workers at the Kennedy Space Center last week.

Atlantis, which began flying in 1985, was chosen for retirement first since it was scheduled for maintenance, a process that could take two years. The $3 billion shuttle likely will have four or five more flights to the international space station before retirement.

“The reasoning is instead of taking it offline for two years and spending a lot of money to return it to flight when it probably would fly only one time at the most, why spend that extra money, when you don’t need to?” NASA spokesman Bruce Buckingham said Tuesday at the Kennedy Space Center.

NASA has planned 17 more shuttle flights before the program ends in 2010. The next-generation vehicles are expected to be ready no later than 2014.

Most of the nearly 15,000 NASA and contractor employees at the space center work on the shuttle program, but they likely will be unaffected by the retirement of Atlantis, Buckingham said.

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